The Honda Africa Twin Gets Rally Raid Ready

When it comes to adventure-tourers that can actually go off-road, the Honda Africa Twin easily rises to the top of the list. Couple that to Honda’s pursuits in the Dakar Rally and other rally raid events, and its easy to see where the Honda Africa Twin Rally could be born. A special model being built by Italy’s Honda importer that was unveiled at this year’s Motodays show, the Africa Twin Rally won’t be hitting other markets any time soon (read: never), though it shows a machine that many ADV riders have been clamoring for, since the first shots of the Honda CRF450 Rally hit the internet. The Honda Africa Twin Rally loses roughly 15 pounds over its OEM predecessor, mostly by using carbon fiber and a minimalist LED headlight assembly. Yes, a roadbook is an optional accessory, for when you find yourself in the middle of The Dakar.

Yes, Winter Traction Tires Exist for Motorcycles

If you are in a region that gets all four of the seasons, you are likely counting down the days to the coming snow-thaw. As such, this article might be coming to you a little late for this season, but for next winter you should consider mounting some winter traction tires to your motorcycle. Yes, such things exist. To be fair, I too was unaware that you could get a motorcycle tire that met the criteria from the DOT, in order for it to carry the “mountain/snowflake” symbol, but apparently Turkish tire-maker Anlas has such tires in its line-up. That’s right, for regions of the world that require special tires during the snowy months, there is a tire out there to keep you riding all-season.

SWM Motorcycles Targets 6,000 Units in 2017

You probably haven’t heard of SWM Motorcycles, the off-road brand that carries on where Husqvarna left off in Italy. Built from the parts that KTM didn’t want when it bought the Swedish brand in 2013, SWM Motorcycles is based outside of Milan, Italy and produces a variety of off-road focused machines using pre-BMW Husqvarna engine designs. Many members of the company’s team are former Husqvarna employees, including the company’s CEO, Ampelio Macchi – all of whom were left out in the cold when the German brand sold Husqvarna to KTM. But, with a new production facility, support from the local government and worker unions, along with Chinese financing (from the Shineray Group), SWM Motorcycles has taken on a new life with a promising future.

How Dorna Is Ending the Spanish Armada in MotoGP

It is terribly fashionable in some circles to regard Dorna as a blight on the face of motorcycle racing. Their alleged crimes are both heinous and manifold. They have dumbed down the sport by exerting an ever tighter grip over the technical regulations. They killed off the two-strokes in favor of four-strokes. They have aggressively pursued copyright and trademark claims, at the cost of broadening the appeal of the sport. They have been relentless in their pursuit of financial gain over the spirit of the sport. They have meddled in the sport to favor one rider, or one nationality over the rest. Most of these complaints are either baseless, or an expression of anger at how the sport has changed over the years.

The 2017 Aprilia RS-GP MotoGP Race Bike Debuts

The final factory MotoGP to debut its 2017 MotoGP Championship race bike, Aprilia has finally debuted the 2017 Aprilia RS-GP that Aleix Espargaro and Sam Lowes will campaign this year. The Italian outfit continues to make quiet strides in its development with the RS-GP, though the efforts from Suzuki and KTM tend to dominate the headlines. For the 2017 season, Aprilia looks ready to take another step forward, especially with Aleix Espargaro at the helm. The biggest task for the 2017 will be to bring more horsepower to the Aprilia RS-GP. The machine reportedly handles quite well, though that is often an item of praise that changes as the power increases.

The Subtle Big Deal That Is Ducati Premier Financing

Ducati released a new financing program this week, maybe you saw the announcement already. If you even bothered to read one of the copy/paste jobs on this announcement, you probably got three sentences into it, and then realized you just lost a minute or two of your life, which you will never get back. It is hard to make this topic sexy, and motorcycle journalists are lazy creatures (myself included)…which is why you probably just saw the press release reprinted on a website, with some Ducati advertising placed next to it, just for good measure. The Ducati Premier Financing program is a big deal though, just not in a way that is immediately sexy to the casual motorcycle buyer.

Washington Lane-Splitting Bill Passes State Senate

Legalizing lane-splitting in Washington State just got a step closer to reality, as the State Senate of the Washington State Legislature has passed a bill that would allow lane-splitting under very specific circumstances. Senate Bill 5378 (SB 5378) would allow lane-splitting only during slow traffic conditions – up to 10mph faster than the flow of traffic, but no faster than 25 mph – and only on numbered highways that have a median and multiple lanes of traffic in each direction. The bill passed the senate with 32 “yea” votes from both Republicans and Democrats, while the 17 “nay” votes came solely from Democrat members.

Indian Working on an Electric Motorcycle?

Polaris Industries says it is working on a new electric motorcycle, to replace the now discontinued Victory Empulse TT model that was scrapped when the Minnesota company closed the doors to the Victory brand earlier this year. According to a report from Reuters, the new electric motorcycle will be released under the Indian Motorcycle brand name, and will be focused towards riders who ride for pleasure, rather than those who commute or do long-distance trips. The report says that Polaris is targeting a 120 to 140 mile range – almost double of what was available from the Empulse TT – from this new electric motorcycle model, when ridden at an aggressive pace.

Indian’s Flat Track Racer Now Available to Mere Mortals

When the Indian Scout FTR750 flat track race bike debuted, our comments section was filled with enthusiasts screaming for a production version of the water-cooled 750cc machine. Well my friends, your prayers have been answered…in part. Indian is making the Scout FTR750 available to anyone who has the coin to spend, with a couple caveats: 1) you will need to pony up $50,000 in order to purchas the bike, and 2) it will be a race-only model. Still, the news should be exciting for privateer flat track racers who are keen to use Indian’s very trick racing package, which looks to be far more purpose-built than Harley-Davidson’s Street 750 based offering.

Report Says Sport Bike Sales in USA Dropped 4.7%

The data continues to support the notion that sport bike sales are contracting, with Powersports Business releasing a report that sport bike sales dropped by 4.7% over a 12-month period that ended in October 2016. According to the dataset put together by Statistical Surveys Inc., 75,469 sport bikes were registered in the United States during last year’s time period, compared to the 79,225 motorcycles that were registered the previous year. While the general trend across the country is a drop in sport bike sales, the research also showed some interesting locations where sport bike sales actually increased dramatically, showing that there may be a location element to the demise of the sport bike.

Thursday MotoGP Summary at Spielberg: New Challenges

08/11/2016 @ 11:40 pm, by David EmmettComments Off on Thursday MotoGP Summary at Spielberg: New Challenges

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In the last few years, the MotoGP season has shown remarkable stability. New tracks have been added from time to time, but the calendar has been very similar from one year to the next.

Even though you get to go to some of the most amazing tracks in the world, the travel becomes routine, humdrum almost. You get to know the road from the hotel to the track, the circuit itself, the idiosyncrasies of each paddock, each media center, like the back of your hand.

It becomes almost like a daily commute to an office. Almost, but not quite.

So new circuits have something a little special. They bring fresh faces, new ideas. There are new routes to learn to the circuit, a new paddock layout, figuring the most efficient path through the paddock.

As a journalist, each media center has its own secrets. The best place to sit to get a view of the TV screens, whether the setting sun in the evening will end up shining on your laptop making it impossible to work, where to sit to avoid being whacked on the head by cameras as photographers try to squeeze past.

You make note of which media center has good coffee, and which has none (Italy, surprisingly). You scout the paddock for food, if you do not wish to wear out your welcome at the hospitality units of various teams.

The Red Bull Ring in Austria has something special too. The track is different, in both good and bad ways, both simpler and at the same time more complicated.

Bradley Smith Joins YART for the Final EWC Round

08/11/2016 @ 3:41 pm, by Jensen Beeler1 COMMENT

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It is not uncommon to see factory endurance teams tapping into their WSBK and MotoGP riders for the Suzuka 8-Hours race, stacking the odds in their favor at the very prestigious and important Japanese race. But, we rarely see these marque names outside of Suzuka.

That being said, Bradley Smith will be joining the factory-backed Yamaha Austria Racing Team (YART) at the 8 Hours of Oschersleben, the final round of the FIM Endurance World Championship.

The reason for this is pretty simple: YART is tied for second, only eight points back from winning the FIM Endurance World Championship, and vying for the top spot with nine other teams mathematically in contention.

2016 Suzuka 8-Hours Endurance Race Results

07/31/2016 @ 9:59 pm, by Jensen Beeler8 COMMENTS

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The 2016 Suzuka 8-Hours is in the bag, and once again the Japanese endurance race proved to be a formidable challenge to its competitors, and a great spectacle for fans.

As expected, this edition of the Suzuka 8-Hours saw strong teams succumb to the challenges of endurance racing – examples being the Honda factory-backed MuSASHI RT HARC PRO team, which had to retire early for mechanical reasons, as well as the SRC Kawasaki Team that also did not finish.

While there were surprises in defeat, we also saw surprises in victory, with the Yamaha Factory Racing Team once again winning the prestigious Japanese race. A repeat of last year’s result for Yamaha, today’s win is marks a shift in the balance of power for endurance racing in Japan.

“I’m very happy and very satisfied with this win, for me, for Alex and for Nakasuga-san because we really deserved it. From the start of the test we have worked so hard to get the best for us three,” said an ecstatic Pol Espargaro.

“After last year, to win two times with Nakasuga-san and one time with Alex is amazing. I’m sure Alex will complete the second one next year! I just want to say thanks to Yamaha, to all the people that support this fantastic team, because we are three riders but a lot of mechanics and other people work in the Yamaha Factory Team.”

“Thanks so much to Alex and Nakasuga, they were amazing today, I can’t say anymore, just thanks!”

Friday MotoGP Summary at Sachsenring: Turn 11 Again, Replacing the Sachsenring, & Marc vs. Maverick

07/15/2016 @ 10:12 pm, by David Emmett1 COMMENT

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It was a wasted day at the Sachsenring. The day started cold but with a dry track, then, ten minutes into MotoGP FP1, a fine mist of rain started to fall, making already tricky conditions positively terrifying.

A few journalists walked through the Sachsenring paddock up towards the end of pit lane, where the fences give you great views of Turn 1 and Turn 11.

Just as we arrived, Scott Redding’s battered Pramac Ducati returned to the paddock in the back of a recovery trailer. When we turned around to watch the bikes coming through Turn 11 again, Jorge Lorenzo slid through the gravel towards us, his foot caught up in his bike for a while.

While we were watching Lorenzo hit the gravel, we heard another bike scrape across asphalt and into the gravel. It was Stefan Bradl’s Aprilia, the German having lost the front at Turn 11, just as Lorenzo had.

The rain continued, never really heavy enough to soak the track properly, only lifting towards the end. A few riders went out on wet tires to check their repaired bikes, coming straight back in again.

The morning session was lost to the weather conditions. The afternoon session was a little better – at least it was dry – but the track temperatures meant that the tires never really got to the operating range they were designed for.

Thursday MotoGP Summary at Sachsenring: Asymmetric Tires, Terrifying Turn 11, & Aprilia Upgrades

07/15/2016 @ 4:03 pm, by David Emmett2 COMMENTS

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There are good times to talk to MotoGP riders and there are bad times. Among the bad times are when sessions of other classes are on, or when other major sporting events intervene. Valentino Rossi’s press debrief on Saturday afternoon is one example.

When it clashes with the start of the Red Bull Rookies Cup race, Rossi can be distracted as he watches the opening laps on TV screens in the Yamaha hospitality.

Though Rossi is the consummate professional, always giving relevant answers to the questions we put to him, sometimes we have to wait, as fourteen Red Bull Rookies all try to fit into a corner where only three will go.

On Thursday, the press debriefs of the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha riders were up against the last twenty minutes of the Tour de France stage, which finished near the top of the Mont Ventoux (not actually at the summit: strong winds meant the finish was moved 6km from the top).

Cycling is something which MotoGP riders tend to become passionate about, as they do it so much to maintain fitness. And the finish to this particular stage became so intense that both Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro remained glued to the screen, as did most of the journos who had come to talk to them, including myself.

We talked a lot with the Tech 3 boys, but none of it was about MotoGP.

Well, not quite none. As I prepared to rush from Tech 3’s hospitality through the tunnel under the track to a press conference I was already late for, I quickly asked about the asymmetric front tires Michelin have brought to the Sachsenring.

“We’ll see tomorrow,” was Bradley Smith’s answer, followed by a comment that he was more happy that the French tire manufacturer has brought the extra soft front rain tire, as the soft had still proved too hard at Assen.

Preview of the German GP: Honda, Seven Times Lucky?

07/14/2016 @ 9:37 am, by David EmmettComments Off on Preview of the German GP: Honda, Seven Times Lucky?

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If there is such a thing as a Honda track, then the Sachsenring is surely it. Of the nineteen premier class races held at the tight, tortuous circuit, Honda have won twelve.

That includes the last six races in a row: From 2010 through 2012, nobody could touch Dani Pedrosa around the circuit. From 2013 onwards, Marc Márquez has been unbeatable at the track.

What makes the Sachsenring such a Honda track? Maybe it’s the two key braking points at the circuit, going into Turn 1, and at the bottom of the hill for Turn 12.

Maybe it’s the ability to use the Honda horsepower going up the hill out of the final corner, across the line and into Turn 1. Or maybe it’s the tight corners, the Honda always a strong bike in turning.

The Sachsenring circuit is invariably described in disparaging terms – “Mickey Mouse”, “a go-kart track” – but that does not do the track justice. It may not challenge the bikes in terms of horsepower, but it demands an awful lot of the riders.

From the moment they arrive at the end of the short, uphill front straight, brake hard for the sharp right-hander of Turn 1, and pitch it into the corner, the bike barely leaves the edge of the tire until the plunge down the Waterfall after Turn 11.

There is a brief moment of respite between Turns 7 and 8, before heeling the bike over again for another series of lefts going up the hill to the circuit’s crowning glory.

Preview of the Dutch TT: Weird Weather, Tricky Tires, and Saving Italian Racing

06/23/2016 @ 8:04 pm, by David EmmettComments Off on Preview of the Dutch TT: Weird Weather, Tricky Tires, and Saving Italian Racing

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So how does the first Dutch TT at Assen to be run following the normal Friday-to-Sunday schedule feel for the riders? It feels normal, is the consensus.

“I don’t think it makes a difference regarding the feeling,” Dani Pedrosa explained on Thursday. “Because when we were here on Wednesday, it felt like a Thursday, because the procedure is the same.”

The only downside about the switch from Saturday to Sunday? “The only good thing before was that when you finish the race, you still have the Sunday off! So when you return home, you had a good time with family on Sunday,” said Pedrosa. “I’m going to miss my Sunday roast!” added Bradley Smith.

Perhaps a more complex and sensitive loss was the fact that the Assen round of MotoGP now clashes directly with the Goodwood Festival of Speed. Bradley Smith bemoaned the fact that he would not be able to attend the festivities on Sunday, nor the traditional dinner on Saturday night.

The damage this clash does could be small but significant in the long run. Though motorcycles are given a lot of attention at Goodwood, it is primarily an event focused on four wheels.

Having top MotoGP riders attend the event was good exposure for motorcycle racing, and MotoGP in particular. With Assen likely to clash frequently with Goodwood, the number of riders at the event is certain to diminish.

Monday MotoGP Summary at Catalunya: New Tires, New Chassis, Some Equivocation

06/07/2016 @ 1:36 pm, by David EmmettComments Off on Monday MotoGP Summary at Catalunya: New Tires, New Chassis, Some Equivocation

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On the day after the Barcelona MotoGP race, the entire grid bar the Aspar Ducatis were back at the track for a full day of testing. Conditions were ideal; so ideal that they perhaps a little confusing.

Though it was hot and dry, the fact that only MotoGP bikes are circulating and laying down Michelin rubber meant the track felt different to race day, when the MotoGP bikes have to follow Moto2, and cope with the Dunlop rubber the fat rear tires smear on the track.

The grip was also helped by the fact that Michelin had three new rear tires to test. They were three slightly different versions of construction of the current rear tire, using one of the compounds available for the race weekend.

The tires were well-received, everyone praising the added traction the tire offered. The only criticism offered was that they had a very short life, dropping off after two or three laps.

Michelin were pleased with the results of testing. The main aim of the new tires had been to proved extra traction, and that is what they had delivered. Michelin chief Nicolas Goubert was very satisfied.

“All three tires were better than the reference tires, so we just have to choose which one to make.” The tires were very much test items, used to gather data, and were to be taken away and examined back at the factory.

There, a decision would be taken on when and where the tires will be used. “Technically it’s possible to produce them for the next races, but we will analyze whether they are needed for the tracks we will be going to before the summer.”

Saturday MotoGP Summary at Catalunya: Dealing with Danger, Data-Driven Design, & the Right to Complain

06/05/2016 @ 1:01 am, by David Emmett8 COMMENTS

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What does the MotoGP paddock do the day after a rider dies? Carry on as normal. Or nearly normal: bikes circulate, riders compete, but conversations are more hushed, the mood muted. The whole paddock is a quieter place, bar the bellowing of racing four-stroke engines.

Heartless? That is putting it a little strongly. It is in part a coping mechanism, immersing yourself in your work to avoid dwelling on tragedy, and thinking too much about danger.

But it is also a response to the request of Luis Salom’s family and team. When Dorna boss Carmelo Ezpeleta asked them what they wanted to do, they said they wanted the race to go ahead.

Their wishes would be respected, but it was not the first choice of everyone in the paddock. Danilo Petrucci told the Italian press he would have preferred to have packed up and gone home, and he was not alone.

“Yesterday I was crying together with my brother because [Luis Salom] was really young,” Aleix Espargaro told us. “This is a disaster. With Pol we were thinking that the best thing was to not race because actually now I feel empty inside.” We all felt empty inside, and still do.

Preview of the Catalan GP: Great Tracks, Great Cities, And Teammates Reunited

06/03/2016 @ 4:11 am, by David EmmettComments Off on Preview of the Catalan GP: Great Tracks, Great Cities, And Teammates Reunited

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If there is an axis around which every MotoGP season revolves, it has to be the sparkling jewels in the crown at Mugello and Barcelona.

From the glory of the Tuscan circuit, all high-speed and rolling hills set just an hour down the road from the heart of Italian sports motorcycles, the circuits heads to the magnificent track at Montmeló, just outside Barcelona.

A stone’s throw away from the cradle of Spanish motorcycling, and with a third or so of the grid (and the paddock regulars) having been born within an hour’s drive, Barcelona is MotoGP’s true home race.

Like Mugello, it is a track worthy of MotoGP, where the big bikes can properly stretch their legs. A massive front straight, exhaust noise booming between the great wall of a grandstand, with a tricky right-left chicane at the end of it.

Lots of long fast corners, allowing differing lines and offering up chances to try to pass. A couple of hard braking sections with more opportunities to pass.

After the chicane at Turn 1 and 2, the next favorite passing spot is into Turn 5, a tight left hander. If you’re feeling cheeky, you can have a sniff at Turn 7, though that can leave you open at Turn 9.

Turn 10 is prime passing territory, a fast approach with a long downhill braking section, before you flick it left round a long, wide corner. Care is needed, though, as it is easy to lose the front on the greasy off-camber corner, or run wide when passing.

That allows the rider you just passed to come back underneath. If the pass does not stick there, all is not quite lost, but it will require every gram of skill and bravery you can muster. Passes are possible at the final corner, as Valentino Rossi so stunningly demonstrated in 2009, but they are far from easy.